Billy MacKenzie: The Second Decade After [part 8]

billy mackenzie monktone glasses

Billy MacKenzie was a man of many hats, but he didn’t always rock a beret

[…continued from last post]

As someone who had immediately acted in 1992 on buying “Outernational,” I was one of the lucky few [estimated 500 in the initial Circa 1992 edition] to have gotten copies. As Billy’s legacy had grown in the years after his death, copies were exchanging hands in the new millennium for three figures. In 2006, Virgin acquired the rights to that tail end of Billy’s recorded canon and they reissued new CDs, enhanced with bonus tracks, of the last two albums he released in his life.

billy mackeizie - outernational cover art
Virgin | UK | CD | 2006 | CIRCDR 22

MacKenzie’s Estate enlisted the same gent who had compiled and curated the One Little Indian editions of 2004; Jude Rawlins of the band Subterraneans. Rawlins [who would later link up with Lene Lovich as her music director when she re-emerged some years back] found room for three bonus tracks. “Because You Love” was another Boris Blank Production that was originally on “The Glamour Chase.” Its appearance here was confusing considering that “The Glamour Chase” had finally been in print since 2002. “Look What You’ve Done [Marital Mix]” was the non-LP B-Side to “Colours Will Come,” but the “marital mix” appellation was new to this edition. I’m not sure if it was a remix of not of the track from the single. And finally, Larry Heard’s “remix” of “Colours Will Come,” called here the US 60659 Mix [look it up…], was a completely different recording of the song with Heard behind the boards. In a completely different key, it’s as radical a tonal shift as can be imagined for the same song.

associates - wild + lonely cvoer art
Virgin | UK | CD | 2006 | CIRCDR 11

And finally, the last Associates album released got a new lease on life. One of the delights of the original album campaign were the cheeky covers of bubblegum pop hits on the B-sides of the album’s singles. Compiled here were all three. Len Barry’s “1-2-3″ was only on the 7” of “Just Can’t Say Goodbye” so while the CD single was my only copy of that single for many years, it remained until I found out about the 7″ in the 21st century. Having this on CD made the album that much better.

“Groovin’ With Mr. Bloe” was a British instrumental hit from 1970 that was unknown in America. The work of UK session men slumming in Bubblegum [as was the whole genre]. This I had on the CD single of “Fever.” And finally, MacKenzie’s excellent take on The Lemon Piper’s “Green Tambourine” hailed originally from the “Fire To Ice” single, which was also on the CD5 version long in the Record Cell. Having all three of these covers added to the album was a treat. I can’t believe that some enterprising thinker hasn’t greenlit a Billy Mackenzie Covers 7″ EP for RSD yet! Throw on “Heart of Glass” and “Boys Keep Swinging” and take it up to a 10″ EP…it’s a no-brainer!

While most of the B-side to the campaign were more well-known covers, “I’m Gonna Run Away From You” was a “Northern Soul” tune that was from the “Just Can’t Say Goodbye” single. It was here with the always exciting “Fever in the Shadows” to round out this DLX RM that took a mediocre MacKenzie album and gave it some pizzazz in the end by adding five more tunes with less of the stultifying gloss of the album proper.

After this last batch of reissues on 2006, things went quiet for a few years. the energy applied to the Billy MacKenzie legacy after his death seemed to have crested and collapsed. It felt like the wave had expended all of its energy, but in 2010 there was an obscure new release which, was on 7″ only!

Billy MacKenzie/Steve Aungle - return to love cocver art
Destination Pop | GER | 7″ | 2010 | DESPOP02

Journalist/photographer” Gilbert Blecken had begun releasing 7″ singles on his Destination Pop label, and the second release from him was a demo version of “Return To Love” from the “Eurocentric” album. The B-side was “The Soul That Sighs” from the same album. I immediately ordered one of these when word got out about this and looking back now, I’m glad it was a dozen years ago when this happened, since now I cannot afford the cost of a 7″ single from Germany!

billy mackeizie - outernational cover art
Cherry Red | UK | CD | 2013 | CDMRED 559

Surprisingly, 2013 brought a third issue of Outernational!” This was so far under the radar I didn’t know about it until now. It differs by an additional track not included on the 2006 version. “Feels Like The Richtergroove [Mike Koglin Mix]” from the “Colours Will Come” 12″ and CD5 was the added bait.

With everything issued at least once [if not twice…] it seemed like the job was done, but the reissue market had matured in the years since MacKenzie had died. Multiple disc DLX RMS were now common and that bird came home to roost. In 2016, BMG released a quartet of Associates dual disc editions. These had the unfortunate timing to be announced as Pledge Music campaigns in 2015, when I was saving money up for the last big vacation we’ve managed to take.

assocaiates - the very best of cover art
Union Square | UK | 2xCD | 2016 | METRSL 123

There was a budget overview of the band’s ’79-’82 era called “The Very Best Of” that mashed up their first three albums on disc one, and featured deep cuts and selections of unreleased material largely culled form the “Double Hipness” collection. But for the collectors, there were two previously unheard tracks, “Eloise” and the tantalizingly titled “Jukebox Bucharest.” It was a budget title but it’s getting thin on the ground [especially in America] so I’d better act fast on buying one.

associates - the affectionate pounch 2xCD cover sart
BMG | UK | 2 x CD | 2016 | BMGCAT2CD70

The DLX RM of “the Affectionate Punch” was heavily salted on disc two with highlights of “Double Hipness” as well as about half of the remix version of the album, with the debut single cuts added for good measure…and one previously unreleased song, entitled “Schmoltz.” Presumably after the Yiddish word for chicken fat! I can’t find any of these in America for sale now. Grrr.

associates fourth drawer down 2xCD cover art
BMG | UK | 2xxCD | 2016 | vvv

“Fourth Drawer Down” had a second disc with the B-sides, demos from “Double Hipness,” and three previously unreleased tracks. “The Tree That Never Sang” and the demos of “Straw Towels” and “Q Quarters.” This is still in print and there’s one American vendor stocking it.

associates - sulk dls 2xCD cover art
BMG | UK |2xCD | 2016 | ccc

The second disc of “Sulk” contained two previously unreleased cuts, “Party Fears Two [instrumental],” and “Skipping [alt. ver.]” as well as the 12″ mix of “Club Country” and “It’s Better This Way” [alt. ver.],” which were only on vinyl. There’s a single US dealer on Discogs with a used copy of this. Gulp.

Associates - Perhaps 2020 reissue CD cover
Cherry Red | UK | 2xCD | 2020 | QCDBRED794

And the final piece of the Associates puzzle was the 2020 “Perhaps” DLX RM! I’ve written about this earlier, but it’s two years later, and I still have not bought one. For the sake of argument, the bonus material here was really complete. It encompassed all of the 7″/12″ A/B-Sides, including the non-LP single of “Take Me To The Girl,” which slotted in nicely with this era. And the end of the first disc contained the cassette-only original instrumental bonus tracks that I’ve never heard for the tracks “Perhaps,” “Breakfast Alone,” “Thirteen Feelings,” and “The Stranger In your Voice.”

But that was the final piece of the Associates puzzle. The book is not yet closed on Billy. We just received an email last week from someone who is working on “Satellite Life,” an expansive 3xCD box of Billy MacKenzie solo material coming out this spring from Cherry Red. The 1994-1996 recordings that Billy made with Steve Aungle are the focus here, and it will feature previously unreleased material and versions along with “reversions” by Steve Aungle that [I’m guessing] take the songs they wrote together but were “finished” by other hands on projects like “Beyond the Sun” and put them back in Aungle’s hands for the final word.

The Richard who contacted me about this box has also left commentary on this thread. When it gets closer to release, I’m sure we will be writing some more about the ceaselessly fascinating MacKenzie Mystique® that always keeps us enthralled. So stay tuned for more on that score. In the mean time, anyone who has not read Steve Aungle’s blog about his work and experiences with Billy MacKenzie should definitely do so.

Billy MacKenzie was an entrancing talent. He was the ultimate Male Diva, and lived it like he sang it. Vividly and theatrically. He was a proverbial “sing the telephone book” style talent, who took things many steps further by never singing the phone book the same way twice. This impatience may have worked against him in life and career, but it ensured that he was always an artist to keep an eye peeled on for good measure. Chances were that he would deliver the goods.

While his work with Alan Rankine made the biggest commercial impact, I have to admit that I think that all of Billy’s collaborators brought their A-list work to the game. There was a through-line of quality that saw immaculate, glorious pop always cheek-by-jowl with an intense left field love of thrilling obscurity that usually held any potential blandness in check. And Billy’s most thrilling music usually had more than a whiff of hysteria just beneath the sometimes roiling surfaces of his songs.

Given that fact, the potential of his suicide was maybe something that we all should have been more keenly aware of up front. With the plethora of posthumous releases that have flowed out for the last 25 years, I can even admit that at times, it felt like MacKenzie was still here all along. But the fact remains that the work was like fragmentary DNA stuck on bits of recording tape to be endlessly animated, and re-animated as the hands enabling his legacy had their time in the sun. Adding this. Changing that. With the fact that Billy was not here to keep growing and changing as a writer, so all of the material was from that final phase of his life, and we never got to hear an older, wiser Billy tickle our ears with that incredible voice as it would have been changed by all of the years he never got to live.

In the end, I’m just grateful that Billy’s work has not been forgotten and swept away entirely. Which only would have turned the tragedy of his death into a larger one as that vibrant and ecstatic body of work relegated to the dustbin of history would have been. Billy MacKenzie has been a talent that has illuminated my world for the last 32 years and the experience of discovering his art; even a decade late, had a galvanizing effect on my habits as a music listener. It’s doubtful to say that I would be the Post-Punk Monk, always digging through the history of Post-Punk music, had I not encountered the thrills of his art when I was at a highly receptive place to have heard it.


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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7 Responses to Billy MacKenzie: The Second Decade After [part 8]

  1. Applause, applause for this comprehensive overview of his afterlife career. I’ll be quite interested to catch up on some of this stuff via the Satellite Life release … Cherry Red is a reliable source for great material treated with great care.

    I was unaware that Billy had covered the great “Eloise,” but your mention prompted me to look it up, and it is amazing. While the Damned version remains my favourite take, this is now firmly in second place. Alas, if only Sparks had covered the song when they were younger … can you imagine?


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Slur – That was astonishingly prescient of me to use the same cover photo of Billy on the box for the last post in the series. At last we finally get to hear “MacArthur’s Son!”


      • slur says:

        Indeed. Your post motivated me to listen to the few Associates records I have again after several years of storing them away. I’m still not fully convinced but agree he had an astonishing voice + presence.
        So many good & individual singers during post punk / new wave – I really miss these times when you could stumble over another really interesting artist at least once a week. Or I’m getting too old, too knowledgeble for the same enthuism over and over again.


  2. Hello. Great to see someone else championing Billy. By the way, “I’m Gonna Run Away From You” was also a cover:

    As you probably now know, A covers EP was released for Record Store Day 2022, on 12″ clear vinyl.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Ian Nipper – Welcome to the comments! Ian, I recognize your name from somewhere. Affectionate Bunch list, perhaps [no pun intended!] 20 years ago? Thanks for setting me straight on the Tami Lynn track. Thus we see the perils of writing at work during my lunch hour with my Record Cell at home, 26 miles away. And the “Covers” EP is on the endless want list. It will be pricey given that I’m in America, but anything by Associates/Billy is ripe for collecting.


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